With routes from 1.5 to 7 miles, there’s something for everyone in the Brecklands, whether you’ve never walked in the countryside before or you’re a seasoned rambler. Many of these routes lend themselves well to trail running too and it’s a great way to get fit as you explore. Some of the trails cross land that is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission.
At High Lodge Forest Centre, on the B1107 towards Brandon, you can walk and cycle following marked routes suitable for a range of abilities. Bike hire is available and there are restaurant and other visitor facilities.
For further information, visit the Forestry Commission website.
Respect, protect and enjoy the countryside
Please respect the natural environment that these routes pass through. Stay on the designated paths and take any litter home with you. When passing through livestock grazing areas, keep dogs under control and leave gates as you find them.
These trails pass through areas designated to protect internationally rare ground-nesting birds. Please keep dogs on leads through open fields and grassland between February and August.
Breaking New Ground project
In March 2014 the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) confirmed the award of nearly £1.5million to the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership. This £2.2m scheme (the largest of its kind in East Anglia delivered a range of exciting Heritage and Landscape Projects in the heart of the Brecks until June 2017. For more information about the project, visit the Breaking New Ground website
College Farm sits on the edge of Thompson Common which is a classic site for seeing periglacial ground-ice depressions over 10,000 years old. These form a cluster of natural ponds on the Common dating back to the last Ice Age. Because the physical landscape here has been unchanged for so long it also has provided extraordinary habitat continuity for wildlife. The site is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Ice Age Beetles
The ponds at Thompson Common have a rich biodiversity, and are unusual for containing many rare and notable species. Some beetle species, such as this Hydroporus glabriusculus are more typically found in Scandinavia, suggesting they may be a relict population dating back to the last Ice Age. If so, the Common may have continuously provided habitat for over 10,000 years!
Visiting Thompson Common
Thompson Common is marked on Ordnance Survey Explorer map no.229 ‘Thetford Forest in The Brecks’ (c. TL 934 958). However it is private land, and is only accessible by designated footpath. The ponds on Stow Bedon Common can be seen from the disused railway line footpath which is easily accessible from College Farm and there is also parking in a designated car park just off the A1075 at TL 940 966.
The Brecks (otherwise known as the Breckland) is one of the great natural areas of Britain. It covers some 940 km2 (370 sq m) in Norfolk and Suffolk, and has one of the driest climates in the UK. It is a place of strange beauty and hidden stories that go back to the Stone Age, and it has a distinctive Earth heritage.
Ancient heathland once covered a huge area, created by the axes of prehistoric farmers and the nibbling teeth of sheep and rabbits. ‘Brecks’ were temporary fields cultivated for a few years and then allowed to revert to heath once the soils became exhausted. Sands storms were once a regular occurrence, such as that which engulfed the village of Santon Downham in 1668. Through many centuries its heaths and wetlands became home to a distinctive range of plants and animals. The contrasting chalky and sandy soils have contributed to much biodiversity.
Over the last hundred years the ancient character of the Brecks has changed. The large-scale pine plantations of Thetford Forest and the use of modern farming technology have transformed much of it into more productive land. The remaining stretches of heath, and the more open parts of the forest, are now vital areas for wildlife conservation. The Brecks is an ideal area for quiet recreation, and the forests now welcome over 1½ million visitors each year.
Find Out More
- Download the Earth Heritage Trail app from Android and iPhone.
- The Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s web page about Thompson Common, including info about parking and access -http://www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/nature-reserves/reserves/thompson-common/.
- The wildlife of Thompson Common explained in the SSSI document on Natural England's website -http://www.sssi.naturalengland.org.uk/citation/citation_photo/1000249.pdf.
- The Peddars Way Trail includes a ‘Pingo Trail’ circular walk - see the Norfolk Trails website http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/Leisure_and_culture/Norfolk_Trails/Short_and_circular_walks/ or download the map here http://www.norfolk.gov.uk/view/NCC158268/.
- You can see more periglacial pond features at other publicly-accessible sites in the Brecks, including Foulden Common [TF 765 005; 52.5712 0.5997] and Frost’s Common, Hockham [TL 945 935; 52.4638 0.7632].
More information can be found on the Breaking New Ground Booklet about the Brecks.